Banwell, Alison F., MacAyeal, Douglas R., Sergienko, Olga V.

Geophysical Research Letters

Published date November 27, 2013

Breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf triggered by chain reaction drainage of supraglacial lakes

  • States that the explosive disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf poses two unresolved questions:
    • What process:
      • (1) set a horizontal fracture spacing sufficiently small to predispose the subsequent ice shelf fragments to capsize? 
      • (2) synchronized the widespread drainage of >2750 supraglacial meltwater lakes observed in the days prior to break up?
  • Answers both questions through analysis of the ice shelf's elastic flexure response to the supraglacial lakes on the ice shelf prior to break up
  • Analysis suggests that drainage of a single lake can cause neighboring lakes to drain, which, in turn, causes farther removed lakes to drain
  • Concludes that such self-stimulating behavior can account for the sudden, widespread appearance of a fracture system capable of driving explosive break up